Finding Radical Wholeness With a Modern-Day Master

Ken Wilber

Our guest today is a legendary thinker, author, and philosopher. Ken Wilber has spent decades understanding how humans are all interconnected with each other, decoding through dozens of beautifully written books how we fit into the greater, massive, picture that is the expanding universe.


In this Episode of The Human Upgrade™...

Our guest today is a legendary thinker, author, and philosopher. Ken Wilber has spent decades understanding how humans are all interconnected with each other, decoding through dozens of beautifully written books, how we fit into the greater, massive, picture that is the expanding universe. He’s an absolute pioneer, a visionary, and that barely scratches the surface of his work.
He joins Dave to outline his newest book—Finding Radical Wholeness: The Integral Path to Unity, Growth, and Delights—and offers up a supporting stream of consciousness which rivals any that you’d find, on any podcast, in depth of insight and emotional impact. His words resonate with a truth and wonder which will leave you inspired from beginning to end, and well beyond.

“If you have a waking-state experience of being one with the entire universe, you’ll know it.”


00:00:38 — Finding Radical Wholeness with Ken Wilber 

00:18:09 — The Roles Biohacking & Brain Stimulation Play in Unity Experiences 

00:38:10 — States of Emptiness & How To Get There 

  • Teachings of Nagarjuna
  • Formulating the quantum principles
  • Why all forms of thinking are incomplete 
  • The four-quadrant pronouns that make it all make sense
  • Basic tenets of integral theory
  • Shared objective views, social organism or a collective group
  • Going deep with Ken Wilber
  • Are we living in a simulation?
  • Fourth and fifth states of consciousness

01:08:55 — This is Ken Wilber on Drugs & Nonduality

Appreciating the psychosomatic analysis of Fritz Perls

Enjoy the show!

LISTEN: “Follow” or “subscribe” to The Human Upgrade™ with Dave Asprey on your favorite podcast platform.

REVIEW: Go to Apple Podcasts at daveasprey.com/apple and leave a (hopefully) 5-star rating and a creative review.

FEEDBACK: Got a comment, idea or question for the podcast? Submit via this form!

SOCIAL: Follow @thehumanupgradepodcast on Instagram and Facebook.

JOIN: Learn directly from Dave Asprey alongside others in a membership group: ourupgradecollective.com.

  • Our Partners
  • Links & Resources
  • Key Notes
jQuery(document).ready(function($) { $(document).on('click','ul.selectTabs li', function() { var el = $(this), tgt = el.data('target'); $('ul.selectTabs li').removeClass('active'); el.addClass('active'); $('.partners').hide(); $('.links-resources').hide(); $('.keynotes').hide(); $('.' + tgt).show(); }); });

[00:00:00] Dave: You’re listening to The Human Upgrade with Dave Asprey. Each week on the show, I talk about biohacking, the art and science of changing the environment around you and inside of you so that you have full control of your own biology. But our guest today is legendary and has spent decades understanding how humans are all interconnected with each other, how you fit into the world. He’s an absolute pioneer, a visionary, a philosopher, and that barely scratches the surface of his work in the world. I’m talking about none other than Ken Wilber. Ken, welcome.

[00:00:33] Ken: Thank you, Dave. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

[00:00:38] Dave: Uh, Ken, you’re known, uh, and I think for listeners, many of us have heard of integral theory, which I would say is a North Star for seekers of knowledge. And you’ve written a bunch of books, like A Theory of Everything, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, and your newest book, Finding Radical Wholeness is coming out soon. So you’re not slowing down. If anything, you’re accelerating your writing, right?

[00:00:59] Ken: Yeah, it’s one of the things that when I look back on my career, I’m happiest about. I’ve written over 30 books, and they’re all in my bookshelf, and I can see them all, and that’s great, but I do notice that I have increased the frequency with which I write. And that’s a little bit odd to me.

[00:01:28] Because I would just naturally think that I would slow down a little bit. I mean, I’m 74 years old now, but it just seems to increase. And in part, it’s because I continue to think of different ways to explain the general ideas. And I seem to think of different ways to explain it with a fairly rapid amount of turnover.

[00:02:03] And so I’ll finish one book, and I actually have another way that I can say essentially the same stuff. So I’ll finish one book, and then usually I’ll wait three or four months, and then I’ll start the next book. And that’s just continued, and I’m very pleased with it. I like the different outputs that I’ve produced, and the different types of explanations, and I’ve continued to discover different aspects of human beings that can be approached in a more holistic and whole mind way.

[00:02:48] So I now include growing up, waking up, opening up, cleaning up, and showing up. And each of those refer to a different type of wholeness that you can have. So just to give a simple example, say, a 1,000 years ago, when it was thought that the earth went around the sun, and the earth itself was flat, and we didn’t have any understanding of atoms, molecules, or cells, you could be studying Zen, or some meditative practice, and maybe you’re walking through the woods one day, and you’re aware of the sun out there, and you’re aware of the earth down there, and you’re aware of all the trees in the forest. 

[00:03:41] And all of a sudden, you can have an actual unity experience. So you don’t see the sun anymore. You are one with the sun. And you don’t see all the trees. You’re one with all the trees. And you don’t feel the earth underneath your feet. You are one with the earth. But the fact that you’re one with the sun, or one with the earth, or one with the trees, won’t give you any understanding of the atoms that are fundamental components of each of those.

[00:04:16] And they won’t give you an understanding of the molecules that atoms fundamentally build. And they won’t give you an understanding of cells that are in each of those trees, but you don’t have any understanding of the cells. And that’s what the molecules tend to create. And then of course, there are multicellular organisms.

[00:04:41] And we have a whole tree of life that includes fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, humans. And each one of those gets more complex. And increased complexity can lead to an increased wholeness. If you draw them all together into a unified whole, those wholes become greater the more complex they are. And so none of that is obvious. And yet each one of them can give us a different type of actual wholeness. 

[00:05:19] And when we become aware of this wholeness, we actually experience this unity with, whether it’s the planets, or the universe, or the earth, or all the organic molecules, and trees, and animals, and so on. Um, and this increased feeling of wholeness is a very satisfying because it’s a very filling experience.

[00:05:47] So that’s why generally people like to call themselves holistic, because that’s another word for whole. And people like to be whole. They don’t want to be fragmented, and broken, and split. They want to be whole and unified, and that’s essentially what my writing is about, is how to discover all of these areas of unification. Whether that’s growing up, or waking up, or opening up, or cleaning up, or showing up.

[00:06:24] Dave: What was the first time in your life you experienced that sense of wholeness? Tell me the story about that. 

[00:06:31] Ken: Yeah, I was in my early teens, maybe 12 or 13, and I was meditating because I’d been doing Zen practice since I was about 10 or 11. And as I sat down and started to concentrate on a topic, and at the time, I was concentrating on a Zen koan called mu. And mu, M-U, is a Japanese word that simply means no.

[00:07:08] And it’s become one of the most widely prescribed koan exercises for the largest number of Zen students because a famous Japanese Zen master by the name of Joshu was asked, does a dog have Buddha nature? And every Buddhist knows that all sentient animals have some degree of consciousness. So the correct answer would be yes. But Joshu famously screamed mu, meaning no. And the Zen koan is, why did he say no?

[00:07:47] And basically, the way you theoretically do that is you concentrate on mu until there’s no separation between you and mu itself. So you become one with that mental object. Or subject and object become one. And that oneness permeates your entire life, and you become one with everything you experience is out there. So you become one with the universe, one with the forest, one with the earth, one with everything that you’re experiencing as a separate object. And that’s what happened to me. I was meditating on mu. 

[00:08:31] Dave: When you were 12, you were meditating on mu?

[00:08:33] Ken: 12 or 13. Yeah.

[00:08:35] Dave: Wow. Okay. So you were into this as a kid?

[00:08:38] Ken: Yes, I was. And I started meditating, I said, about 10 or 11. And I would do that because when I found out about Zen because I read the books of D. T. Suzuki, which is the leading Zen scholar of the time, and he wrote three-volume books called Essays in Zen Buddhism. And when I first read Essays in Zen Buddhism, I couldn’t help but notice his term satori. Because that’s what Zen was all about, was getting a satori. 

[00:09:17] And a satori is a Japanese word that just means unity experience. And so you have a satori when you feel one with the entire universe or one with everything that’s arising. And that’s what happened, is I continued to meditate on mu, and I’d been meditating on mu for a year or two by then, which usually, it takes a couple years to crack through to the unity of mu. And so I was about normal progress for somebody who’s practicing Zen, and I just became one with mu.

[00:09:58] And that meant I wasn’t thinking about mu. I was simply was mu. And whether I was thinking about mu or not, there was just this unity of mu-ness, and I was one with that unity. And that was a profound awakening for me. It was such a strong sense of unity, and wholeness, and oneness, wherever I looked, and whatever I felt. 

[00:10:32] And so my separate self sense, the separate Ken that was aware of all of this stuff going on out there, there wasn’t any Ken left. There was just everything out there, and I was one with all of it. And that’s the feeling of satori, or awakening, or ultimate oneness. And that was a very, very important direct experience for me.

[00:11:02] And it changed my view of religion entirely because religion used to be something that people would think or something that they would do, like prayer or something like that. And so there was a subject-object differentiation between the subject that believes in religion and the religion itself. But this wasn’t like that.

[00:11:31] I wasn’t separate from spirituality. I was one with that spiritual realization. And that oneness just completely turned over everything that I learned about religion up to that point. Of course, because of my meditation practice, I started studying the works of Aldous Huxley, and Alan Watts, and people that wrote about direct spiritual experience, or direct spiritual unity, or oneness, or wholeness. 

[00:12:07] So I was very much aware that those types of oneness experiences were the core of spirituality. They were the core, whether you had a Christ consciousness experience of oneness, or God conscious experience of oneness or unity, awareness, or Zen satori. They all carried this unitary experiential realization. And that was very profound change in my theoretical understanding.

[00:12:42] Dave: And how does it feel that today people would add your name to that list of masters with Aldous Huxley and people like that? I mean, you’ve–

[00:12:50] Ken: Um, I’m terrifically honored by it. And I’m very glad that I have been able to write over 30 books that each of them has been, essentially, a bestseller. And so I’m glad that I found ways to word this understanding in a way that a lot of people seem to appreciate. And they can seem to understand it. And that makes me feel great.

[00:13:22] Dave: It’s a gift. It’s a gift to know the states. It’s another gift to be able to somehow share them. I do it with neurofeedback at my neurofeedback company, and I write books as well. I’ve written eight.

[00:13:34] Ken: Yeah. Like Bulletproof Diet.

[00:13:36] Dave: Yeah. 

[00:13:36] Ken: It’s a good book, by the way.

[00:13:38] Dave: Oh, thank you. 

[00:13:39] Ken: I like it. 

[00:13:40] Dave: That’s a huge honor.

[00:13:42] Ken: Yeah, it’s a great book.

[00:13:44] Dave: Oh, thank you. And the idea is to somehow share some knowledge that people don’t have, and that seems like much harder than gaining it, but you’ve trodden some new paths. And you talked about the first time, at a very young age, you experienced this. The only other one who comes to mind like that is Ravi Shankar was on the show a little while ago. And when he was three, he memorized the Bhagavad Gita.

[00:14:06] He beat you by a few years, but I mean, these are unusual things for a 10 or 12-year old to do, or anyone who’s still a kid. So you got into it early. Do you think that’s because some past life you came in semi enlightened or something? What’s your story about why you did this so young?

[00:14:26] Ken: I was just born with an intense intellectual curiosity.

[00:14:31] Dave: Curiosity. Okay. That keeps you young.

[00:14:33] Ken: I just wanted to know. Whenever I study, I come across a new idea, and whether it was something like the perennial philosophy, or unity consciousness, or Christ consciousness, I’d want to know, what is that? And so as soon as I started reading D. T. Suzuki, and essays in Zen Buddhism, he was such a clear, beautiful writer. 

[00:14:59] And when he would talk about satori, he was talking like it was the most precious gift that humankind had. And I just had to know what that was about. And so I started reading all the people that had written about some type of spiritual unity. And that included Aldous Huxley, and D. T. Suzuki, and Alan Watts, and Krishnamurti, and a whole long list. 

[00:15:29] And I stumbled on something called the perennial philosophy. And that was the great philosophers of many cultures, and there are an enormous number of philosophers that have had these awakening experiences. And the sum total of them was called the perennial philosophy. Everybody that has the experience tends to feel similar things.

[00:15:57] So they no longer feel like they’re a separate self sense. They’ve transcended separate self sense. So all of Buddhism, for example, is known as a no self religion. And that’s because all of them have had this satori-like experience. And therefore, their separate self has just disappeared. And they feel one with everything that’s arising. So I knew, theoretically, that those type of experiences were there. And once I knew they were there, I, of course, wanted to have one.

[00:16:32] And since I started reading D. T. Suzuki and Aldous Huxley, when I was quite young, I was eight, or nine, or 10 when I started to read the perennial philosophy. So Ananda Coomaraswamy, Aldous Huxley, and all of these great perennial philosophical writers, many of them, I had fully studied and read. So as I began practicing what they talked about, and I began using a Zen koan, and for people that don’t know, a Zen koan is a saying of a famous Zen master, and they’re used as objects of meditation.

[00:17:22] So if you are assigned a koan– most Rinzai Zen masters assign their students a koan. They’re usually questions or stories that don’t make much rational sense. So a famous Zen koan is, what’s the sound of one hand clapping? And you actually meditate on the sound of one hand clapping until you become that sound. And it’s a very real experiential realization. 

[00:17:59] Dave: How long does it normally take when you’re meditating on the sound of one hand clapping? Is that another two-year experience?

[00:18:03] Ken: Yeah, about two years.

[00:18:08] Dave: I’ve been interested in ways to get to those states faster. I mean, I’m using neuroscience, and lasers, and sounds, and lights, and all the things. You are a master of this. Is there a faster way than to just meditate in a cave for two years on the sound of one hand clapping? What’s your fastest way?

[00:18:24] Ken: Yeah. Electromagnetic brain stimulation.

[00:18:28] Dave: Yes.

[00:18:29] Ken: It’s definitely the quickest of all the paths out there. And anybody can buy a brain-mind machine. They’re everywhere. I mean, you can get online. Just type in brain-mind machine, and you’ll find hundreds of them. And they generally use a type of neurolinguistic programming where if you play something that’s eight hertz in the right ear and four hertz in the left ear, your brain will start to focus on the difference between them.

[00:19:09] So it’ll focus on a four hertz brain wave, and a four hertz is a very deep theta state. So it’s a state of– we generally have waking, dreaming, and deep formless sleep. And four hertz is a deep formless state. And that, generally, we know from the brain states that we’ve actually studied of real Zen meditators, that the lower megahertz wavelengths, such as 2, 3, 4, 5 hertz are where most of the deep dreamless, or so called causal, which is ultimate reality type of experiences tend to occur, in those very slow wave states.

[00:20:06] And when you buy a brain-mind machine and just put it on your head and set whatever speeds you want, it’ll create these two different wavelengths that you’ll hear, and your brain will actually focus on the difference between the speed of those wavelengths. So if you have a 10 hertz going in one ear and a 5 hertz going in the other, your brain will focus on the difference between 5 and 10, which itself is 5 hertz. 

[00:20:40] And that’s a fairly low state. And of course, you can set your brain-mind machine to one megahertz, or two megahertz, or three megahertz, and it’ll send the correct amount of different wavelengths into your brain. And instead of taking one or two years to get into that state, the brain-mind machine will put you in that state in less than an hour.

[00:21:12] Dave: Wow.

[00:21:12] Ken: So they’re very effective, and I recommend them. Definitely. They’re terrific for just somebody who wants to try them once a day or something like that. And you will definitely get in those states very quickly.

[00:21:28] Dave: I started using that kind of machine, uh, probably when I was 20 years old, uh, which for me is 30 years ago. And today, BrainTap is probably the most common one people have heard of on this show because I’ve interviewed the founder. I’ve also used the electrical current flowing between the ears, uh, in those same states.

[00:21:50] In fact, I wrote the Bulletproof Diet with electricity running between my ears, putting me in a gamma state, which is also associated with advanced meditation. So when you’re downloading, and organizing, and going into these altered states of creation to write a really good book, I found that helped a lot. You ever run electricity directly over your brain? You almost must have.

[00:22:12] Ken: Well, it reduces the desire state very quickly. Um, and that’s because it’s applying a direct current to your brain. And that’s a very powerful, explicit way to do it. Did you have good luck when you tried it?

[00:22:36] Dave: I did, but it requires having the right equipment. And we do it sometimes, even at 40 Years of Zen, but it’s clinical grade gear. I was lucky. I had a piece of equipment that was very programmable. They only made 2,000 of these things, and then the guy making them turned out, apparently, to run a con because he just kept selling them but never shipping them for the next generation of it.

[00:22:58] So I have one of these units. So I was maybe 15 years ahead of where things are today. So today we have clinical grade ones, and you put the electrodes in the right places, and you can profoundly change someone’s state. I even have an experimental one where something like 6% of people who use it experience God.

[00:23:17] They call it the God Helmet. I don’t use that one clinically. Um, it’s very finicky. And you have to check the space weather before you can use it. But people have really profound things. Just realized you can actually access these states with breathwork, with electricity. And for me, the biggest one has been focusing on open-heartedness, gratitude, and forgiveness, and that’s at the core of what I teach at 40 Years of Zen. But to me, that all feels heart based. And you talk about the mind. I talk about the mind. Talk with me about the Ken Wilber perspective on what does the mind do versus what the heart does.

[00:23:53] Ken: Well, one of the most important things when you have a so called heart experience is the lack of duality. I mean, it’s just inherently a unified state.

[00:24:07] Dave: Right.

[00:24:08] Ken: Although Zen does talk about big mind versus small mind. So Suzuki was famous for his big mind talks. Um, all that means big mind has transcended the small separate self mind.

[00:24:28] And so big mind means an experience of ultimate unity with the entire universe. That’s what a big mind experience is. But actually, in terms of physiology, the big mind is a direct heart experience. And a heart experience is inherently unified. And that’s why when you’re feeling the heart, you can feel a great deal of closeness with other people.

[00:24:58] And so that’s a heart experience. Because when you feel another person, you’re not feeling them as a separate set apart person. You’re feeling a state of unity or love with them. And so that’s a very heart-based experience. And love is the core of the unitary experience because that’s what you feel when you’re in love.

[00:25:26] Even if you love a particular piece of cake, because you love it so much, you’re becoming one with the taste of it, one with the flavor of it, one with the whole cake experience, so to speak. So love and unity experience are virtually identical. And so that’s why when you drop into the heart and you’re feeling this enormous love of everything that exists, you’re feeling a oneness with everything that exists.

[00:25:59] That’s why you love it. Because you’re one with it. And you feel that oneness so you can actually feel that loving unity. And that becomes a very, very powerful experiential realization. And of course, it’s emphasized in a lot of spiritualities, like Christianity is known for its loving embrace of the world, and other people, and so on.

[00:26:27] And Buddhism and Hinduism don’t talk as much of love as they talk of compassion, which is essentially the same thing. Compassion is you feel a compassionate caring for others because you’re one with them. And so, of course, you want to take care of them, and you feel a compassion towards them. So love and compassion are two very powerful core experiences of the unity, satori experience.

[00:27:01] Dave: What’s changed? In the last 10 years, we’ve had all kinds of new understanding of consciousness, fMRI, brain scans, EEG, things about the quantum spin of protons in the brain. I mean, it’s so interesting. So what has caught your eye as the most wow in the last 10 or so years?

[00:27:22] Ken: Well, I think the things that have impressed me in my awareness has been the increase in technology, or brain-mind machines, or brain-heart machines. I just was surprised how effective and how quick they can affect brain waves and brain consciousness. And the more people have even small unity experiences, they’re going to be aware of any type of theoretical position that gives some explanation to that unitary awareness. And that includes, most famously, quantum mechanics. And I’ve always been somewhat suspicious of people that write about quantum unity as being the foundation of satori unity. 

[00:28:27] Dave: Yeah. Me too.

[00:28:28] Ken: It’s not quite there. And they like to quote Schrodinger, and Heisenberg, and de Broglie, and Eddington, and all of these founding physicists because the founding physicists all had an understanding of the unitary field of the universe. At least one way to interpret quantum field is as a unitary patterned awareness. And so a lot of people started putting them together with quantum mysticism. The actual amount of evidence that supports that interpretation of quantum mechanics is very, very thin.

[00:29:18] Dave: It definitely drives me nuts because people– here’s my quantum bathtub. They just throw it around. At the same time, I saw a study in the last year or so that did show that for the first time they could look at the spin of protons, if I’m remembering right, in a living brain. And they found that every time the heart beats, they would change their spin all simultaneously, which is really strong evidence that we are a quantum system. In fact, it’s almost undeniable.

[00:29:46] And then you look at the HeartMath Institute work. I used to be an advisor years ago. They’ll show you that you walk into a stall with a horse, the horse’s heart rate variability will change to match yours, which is why tweakers can’t ride horses. They throw you off because you’re unstable.

[00:30:01] Now, is it a magnetic field, or is it a quantum field, or an information field? No one’s actually measured that. Is it a decent supposition that when you have a chant, an experience of oneness, that you become more quantum entangled and resonating with reality, or other people, or things around you, and that that’s a communication mechanism for collective consciousness? I can’t say that it is that way. I think there’s more evidence than there used to be, but we don’t know for sure. Would you agree with that, or would you just still be more skeptical? 

[00:30:36] Ken: That’s what I mean when I say I’m a bit skeptical, is many theorists talk about this as if there’s hard evidence that this is the fact. Now, there’s hard evidence that quantum fields exist, and there’s hard evidence that unitary states of consciousness exist, but there’s very little actual evidence that unity consciousness has a quantum state foundation.

[00:31:07] Because like you say, hardly anybody’s even measured what’s going on in those states. And while there is some more inferential types of awareness about this stuff, there’s not very much of it, as you yourself have pointed out. That always has bothered me.

[00:31:31] Dave: Yeah, it’s always bothered me too, and I’ve had a few people come on the show with products that they make quantum claims. And the products provably work. So I can’t say they work via quantum, but that’s how they think they work. And they might work by quantum, but as long as they work, I’m okay with it because sometimes we might not know why walking works. We just think we know, but there could be a whole magical thing we haven’t figured out yet. So it’s always a theory.

[00:31:57] Ken: I know that unity states of consciousness exist. There’s an enormous amount of evidence that those are real. They exist. Thousands of people worldwide have had these direct experiential realizations, and entire movements are based on the discovery of these, the entire Zen and entire Buddhist movements.

[00:32:23] And in fact, mystical religions around the world all depend on and have practices that produce unity consciousness. And there’s just no questioning the reality of that. But the number of people that have measured the actual state and come up with some quantum field, that’s pretty rare.

[00:32:49] Dave: We suck at measuring quantum fields, is the problem. And what I find is that when people are having those experiences, I can measure the electricity coming off their brain, and I can use that as a guide to help the next person get into this state more quickly. But that’s an electrical field. It’s a pattern of electron signaling in the brain that probably has a quantum signature that I can’t measure yet.

[00:33:12] I imagine in the next 15 or so years, we’ll actually have quantum neurofeedback, where we’ll be able to measure the quantum spin in your brain. You’ll be able to sit there and think of that image or whatever you do that changes the spin, and all of a sudden, you’ll be walking with angels or something. I have no idea. Probably get there with our imaging so you could provide feedback on it. But we’re not that close, and Neuralink isn’t going to get us there. Speaking of Neuralink.

[00:33:37] Ken: That’s right. And I think that that will happen, and I think that we will get almost computer screens off of the state of our brain. And so we can see when we’re getting closer to a unity state because some– 

[00:33:54] Dave: Electrically but not quantumly.

[00:33:57] Ken: Right.

[00:33:58] Dave: Um, have you ever done a quantified EEG, a QEEG on your brain to see what your brain’s doing in there?

[00:34:05] Ken: I’ve done several different electrical-like measurements. And one that was really interesting is I had a small version of an EEG machine, and I connected it to my brain, and it took me about two hours to put the machine together. And when I finally got it together and turned it on, what came up was an incredibly deep and profound theta state because I had been concentrating so intensely for two hours.

[00:34:47] And so my brain had already worked itself down into a very deep, concentrative, low wave-like state. And I could just see it on the screen. It was just alarming to me because I thought, oh, I’ve got to work to get into this state. But I had been working for two hours in a meditative-like state of awareness. And so I’ve had several of those types of experiences. And one of the theories that has been suggested to me is that when you’re in a deep unity state, you’re in some deep theta state, essentially. 

[00:35:34] Dave: That’s what my research also leads to. You learned how to get there naturally, all by yourself, when you were young.

[00:35:41] Ken: Yeah. And that takes several years of practicing to get into that deep meditative state.

[00:35:52] Dave: I want to point out for listeners, before you continue on that thought, there is a type of theta state where you’re dreamy. You’re traumatized. You’re caught in daydreams. You can’t focus. You can’t get things done in the world. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about an intentional theta state where it’s more downloading information, access to acoustic records, an inner knowingness. Am I reading your state right on that?

[00:36:17] Ken: That’s generally known as the theta formless state. Because formless means no thought, no images, no pictorial thinking going on. It’s an actual formless state of emptiness. And that is a very profound state. 

[00:36:40] Dave: Yeah.

[00:36:41] Ken: But you’re right. It’s not a dream type of state. It’s frequently called a deep dreamless state because there’s no dream, or anything, any thought process going on.

[00:36:57] Dave: I think Joe Dispenza, who’s also been on the show, calls that nothingness. You step into nothingness. I call it the unmanifest at 40 Years of Zen, but it’s a weird state where, yeah, it’s dark, but there’s nothing in it. And you can make something out of it, but it’s very hard to use words to describe it. And I like the way you’re describing it, is that dreamless dream state.

[00:37:20] Ken: Buddhists actually call it shunyata, which is a Sanskrit word that means emptiness. And the first great founder of Mahayana Buddhism, which is the second major form of Buddhism after its beginning, our founding form, which is generally called Hinayana. And Hinayana just means small boat, and Mahayana means big boat.

[00:37:47] So the Mahayana people chose the big boat term to refer to their process. And they used the little boat term to refer to the original type of meditation. But both of them result in a state called shunyata, which Nagarjuna introduced. He was the second major founder of Buddhism. And Nagarjuna gave very explicit detailed instructions on what that state of emptiness was and how you got there.

[00:38:20] And he had a whole philosophy based on it, which was, if you take any definition you want for ultimate reality, like it’s radical formlessness, or it’s a God consciousness, or it’s a unity consciousness, Nagarjuna took dozens of those types of descriptions, and he showed, if you want to say that God is a theistic being, for example, Nagarjuna, because he was based on an absolutely formless, emptiness belief, he would show that ultimate reality can neither be described as theistic, or non-theistic, or both, or neither. 

[00:39:10] And those four emptinesses constitute the overall emptiness of the world. And so you cannot say it’s God, or you can’t say it’s not God, or you can’t say it’s both, or you can’t say it’s neither. Nagarjuna would shoot all of those down, and very effectively, I mean, very logically in that sense. And that’s what he was doing, was giving an outlet for all forms of mystical realization, because all of them are formless or expose an emptiness.

[00:39:46] And those are often called godless, or trans god, or godhead, or other terms that try to get those points across. But Nagarjuna wouldn’t allow even those types because he would show that it’s neither God, nor not God, nor both, nor neither. So that pretty much eliminates all your possibilities that you can state it.

[00:40:14] Dave: It sounds quantum. Well, it’s not yes. It’s not no. It’s in the middle, but not really there either. And every time you look at moves until you end up going into whatever that space is, where every time you look at moves, and eventually, you’re looking, and it moves, it doesn’t matter.


[00:40:30] Ken: And there were some founding quantum physicists, most notably Erwin Schrodinger, who wrote entire books. He was instrumental with Heisenberg in formulating the quantum principles. Heisenberg, he used a very complex S matrix to indicate how to describe ultimate reality. And Schrodinger showed it could be reduced to a simple, what’s now called a Schrodinger wave. 

[00:41:02] It’s a simple wave function. And once he got on to that, he eventually, of course, stumbled into the Upanishads. And he would use massive numbers of direct quotes from the Upanishads to describe his version of what the Schrodinger wave equation demonstrated. Because what it demonstrated was an absolute nothingness. And that was known as shunyata by the Upanishads.

[00:41:32] Dave: It’s very interesting. Some of the early quantum physicists, even Edward Teller, guy who built the bomb, he quoted the Bhagavad Gita when they set off the first bomb. These guys were all studying esoteric Indian stuff while doing quantum physics. And it’s fascinating that you also studied that, and you studied quantum physics as a part of getting into integral theory.

[00:41:56] Now, I have to ask you this. As an interviewer, I already know, I think, what integral theory is. I’ve read some of your books. If I were to try to describe it to someone, I would probably butcher it, because it’s one of those things where every time you try to explain it, you missed it, almost like our whole conversation here. How do you– when someone in an elevator walks up and says, huh, what’s integral theory? Explain to me like I know nothing.

[00:42:18] Ken: Well, I would say it’s a philosophical way or a particular way of thinking that shows how all forms of mere thinking don’t really work.

[00:42:33] Dave: Right.

[00:42:34] Ken: And they can be demonstrated to not really work. But another way to say that is that all forms of thinking take a different perspective on the same thing. So if we include all forms of philosophy, we get something that’s called the perennial philosophy because it unifies all of our different perspectives into one wholeness.

[00:43:01] So we have a subject in singular form, and we have the subject in pluralistic form. So when we talk about your state of consciousness or my state of consciousness, that’s a first person singular approach to consciousness. But we have second person and third person perspectives. And we even have different pronouns with I, we, us, ours, they, them, he, she, it, and its. And those major perspectives constitute what I call the four quadrants, because there are four of those major views.

[00:43:47] So the upper left quadrant views a first person singular. So it’s pronouns like I, me, mine, and so on. And then you can take that individual singular perspective, which I call the upper left quadrant, and you can see it in its plural form. And then the plural of I is we. And that includes us, and ours, and things like that. And those are first person plural. So they’re what I call the lower left quadrant. 

[00:44:23] So the upper left quadrant would refer to studies like psychology, the individual study of an individual consciousness. And the lower left quadrant studies things like societies, or cultures, or group, collective forms of consciousness and awareness. And that includes a you awareness. So that’s the second person. You, thou, thine, and so on are all second person or plural perspectives. 

[00:44:58] And then there’s a third person, which refers to the upper left and upper right quadrants. So they include things like he, or her, or it. And then the lower right refers to third person collectives. So that includes something like systems theory. And it includes it’s, I-T-S, or the plural form of and singular it, which is the upper right quadrant. 

[00:45:32] And so those include things like individual quarks, individual atoms, individual molecules, individual cells. Those are all looking at something from an objective perspective. Either a singular, like the upper left is a singular I, or a plural, which is the lower right, like the lower left is a plural I, so it’s a we, or an us, or so on. 

[00:46:01] And the lower right is an objective plural. So it’s a they, or them, or an its, I-T-S. And what’s interesting about those four perspectives is that we already have pronouns for each of them. So we develop those pronouns over thousands of years by referring to what they actually represented. So there is an I, a me, and a mine because there’s actually an individual state of consciousness. 

[00:46:36] And there was a we, an us, an ours because there actually were plural Is. So there was an actual us or ours. And then we could also look at any one of those from an objective perspective. So when we look at an individual whole on– a whole on is a whole that’s a part of another whole. And everything in the universe is made of whole ons. That’s a basic tenet of integral theory. 

[00:47:09] So I got that tenet from Arthur Kessler, who in The Ghost in the Machine wrote about what he called a whole on. And all whole ons exist as a whole that’s a part of a yet larger whole. And so quarks are whole ons for atoms. Atoms are whole ons of molecules. Molecules are whole ons of individual organisms, and the plural of an individual organism is a species, a collective organism form of consciousness. 

[00:47:47] And so we have these I, we, it, and its pronouns because over the millennia, we developed them to represent real things in the real world. That’s why we had actual words for them. That’s why we have an I, and a we, and a he, and a her, and an it, and an it’s. Because those things really exist. 

[00:48:15] And so one of the ways that we talk about integral theory is we talk about including all of our perspectives on reality. And since there are major philosophical schools, you can demonstrate that each of those schools relies on a particular quadrant. So empiricism generally relies on individual I, empirical experiences. And hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation, and interpretation is a group of symbols that we use to interpret many different collectives. 

[00:49:03] And that’s the lower left quadrant. And then we have individual objective realities, which particularly includes most forms of science and their methodologies. So science particularly focuses not so much on an I consciousness, although there are forms of psychology that do that, but it also depicts an I as seen from an objective stance. And that’s things like an atom, or molecule, or an individual cell, or an individual organism, or multiple cells in multiple organisms.

[00:49:50] And those are the upper right and lower right. So an individual it and a plural its. And there are types of methodologies that have been created that give access to each one of those four quadrants. So we have empiricism, hermeneutics, art, and systems theory, for example, and those are very real methodologies that you can use to gain access to one of those realities. And all of them are very real.

[00:50:28] How would I use it? So let’s say that I’m working on, uh, studying, say, hypnotism. I’m just picking some– or acupuncture, something like that. I would then sit down with that. I would take integral theory, and I would say, what perspectives of integral theory from all four quadrants can I use to understand what I’m focusing on and then get a deeper and more connected understanding of it and how it fits into the whole?

[00:50:52] That’s right. Because once you have four quadrants, and you have different fundamental particles making up each quadrant, then you have access to four fundamental types of realities. And all of those are real, and you can use their methodologies to give you access to them. So when you study hypnosis, for example, you can study it from the upper left quadrant, or you can study it from a so called first person perspective.

[00:51:28] And then you’ll try to figure out, what is the person directly experiencing when they’re in the hypnotic state? And that will be a very real experience. And so that’s your I state of consciousness that’s having an hypnotic experience. But you can also look at that I state from the outside in an objective fashion. And that will give you the upper right or an it state. 

[00:52:01] So from the objective viewpoint, hypnosis is an electrical brain wave, a particular type of brain wave. And a brain wave is an objective reality. It’s not particularly subjective, except if you experience it, it’s experienced as a subjective first person experience, and so you’d call it an I state. But when you’re just studying it as an exterior event, it’s an object, and you see it as an object. 

[00:52:36] So maybe you actually measure the brain waves, the electrical brain waves that are producing that state. And each of those, the I state and the it state, have plural forms. We also have cultural consciousness where we have experiences of what’s sometimes called a social organism or a collective group. And then you can look at those in an objective fashion as well. 

[00:53:11] And you have not only the subjective state. You have an actual objective event. And we often call those they, or them, or it’s experiences, and that’s what happens when we look at an individual brainwave in a large number of people. And so we’ll get a social objective view. So there are important things that you learn about hypnosis, whether you’re looking at a group hypnosis, or an individual hypnosis, or a subjective hypnosis, or an objective hypnosis.

[00:53:52] Dave: It takes, I’d say, many hours of study to get a full understanding of how to use integral theory. And for listeners, I was looking at what’s the best example. So when you’re talking about the I, it’s a sensation. I’m feeling irritable, or an emotion. And you look at the it, you’re saying, well, it’s a limbic system, or a reptilian brain system, or something.

[00:54:16] And when you’re talking about we, it’s myths, and magic, and rational, things like that. You’re talking about galaxies, and planets, all the way to communities, and groups. And it is mind-bending to study integral theory. I’m not an expert on it, but I’ve certainly read your books. It’s a bit of a mind warping experience to go deep with Ken Wilber, even just to talk with you.

[00:54:36] And so listeners, if you’ve never read any of Ken’s books, his newest book is going to be worth your time. What I find is that when you’re learning from your elders, people who have more wisdom than you do– I can do what I do, because in my mid-20s, when my brain was trashed, I hung out with people in their 80s who were doing anti-aging before it was acknowledged to be possible, and they taught me what I know.

[00:55:01] And so I got this huge leg up, and I always want to talk with masters. And the later the book in your 30 books, the more distilled wisdom will be in it. And that’s why it’s easier for you to write books, because you have more wisdom. Because you can see more clearly. And so you want to read the later books by Ken Wilber.

[00:55:21] And if you’re a biohacker and you’re completely unaware of Ken Wilber, personal development is integral to biohacking because once you get yourselves working right, they themselves have a collective consciousness. Now we’re getting into the it’s of biohacking. And then you get up to the it, which is probably looking at mitochondria, and things like that. 

[00:55:42] And those generate the I, at least in my understanding of it. So you need to read at least one Ken Wilber book in order to call yourself a biohacker, I would say, because you cannot separate the body from the mind from the spirit. And you’re like, well, of course you can’t. Actually, you spent 60 years figuring out how to put all that stuff together, and you’re still going strong, which I find impressive. I got to ask you though, after 60 years of studying consciousness, are we living in a simulation, Ken Wilber?

[00:56:14] Ken: Well, certainly, we’re living in the type of experience that lends itself to that type of description. So you’ll often hear people that are very familiar with computers say, well, this is all a simulation. We’re all living in a computerized, externalized worldview. And the only reason they can get away with that is they’re describing one of the quadrants.

[00:56:49] And to the extent that we look at the objective world, there is a very real perspective from which that objective world is a projection of our own consciousness. It’s a third person experiential reality. And all these objects are real, and they’re there, and they’re external to us, and we can trace their origins back to subjective experiences as well.

[00:57:26] So, again, the four quadrants are there from the Big Bang all the way to stages of evolution. That’s what each one of my books takes a different version of the universe and explains how all four of those perspectives, first person, second person, third person, have a reality. And they’re very real realities.

[00:57:56] Dave: Are you familiar with Donald Hoffman’s work on the user interface theory of reality?

[00:58:02] Ken: No, but it sounds familiar. 

[00:58:05] Dave: You’ve got to read his book on this. I don’t want to blow your mind because your mind’s already been blown since you were a kid, but it’ll plug in. And his theory, if I numb it down, is that we evolved to create a user interface on reality because unless we’re in the wholeness state you talk about, I’m seeing you on my screen, but I’m not seeing the individual electrons that are transmitted over a Google fiber optics, and all that stuff. So I’m seeing a picture of you inside my brain that isn’t you. So you could argue that we’re living in a simulation, but your body and your brain generate the simulation of what’s really going on out there.

[00:58:45] Ken: That’s right. But you can still take that perspective of an objective view. And when he’s describing the user interface, that’s the reality he’s describing. He’s describing a third person reality looked at through a third person perspective.

[00:59:08] Dave: Right.

[00:59:09] Ken: So he’s giving you a third person description of this third person reality. And that third person reality is, in a sense, a projection of our subjective brain state because we can take that first person perspective of it. And then we can look at that first person, itself from a first person perspective or a third person. 

[00:59:34] We can look at it from a subjective perspective, and we can also look at it from an objective perspective. And when we introspect, what we’re doing is taking our subjective experience and looking at it objectively. So we’re actually looking within and seeing our subjective states. And those all appear as objects. So again, all the perspectives we can take have a foundation in one of the four quadrants, and they’re all very real realities, which is why we can take these very real perspectives of them. 

[01:00:17] Dave: I believe that every time you read a good book, whether it’s a good science fiction book or a Ken Wilber book, it gives you a new user interface to reality, a new way of seeing reality. So the more books you read, the more user interfaces you can switch between. And when you go deep with integral theory, it’s like a master switch to help you flip between ways of seeing things instead of seeing them only through an emotional or an I perspective and to be able to see them all simultaneously. 

[01:00:47] Now, next time I’m in Denver, if I bring my QEEG machine, would you be up for letting me look at your brainwaves? It takes about an hour, and there’s not even any glue to mess up your hair. It’s a 3D printed cap. Most of the great masters, especially spiritual guru types that I’ve managed to get brain scans from, most of them, actually, you can’t get a brain scan when they go into the really deep stage. The equipment just gives you static. It’s like you go somewhere where the equipment can’t see you anymore, and it drives me crazy. Do you do that?

[01:01:18] Ken: Yeah. Well, one immediate experience that comes to mind is I use this small computerized brain-mind machine, and I would get myself into different states of consciousness. And one of the few states that I could reliably both get in and get a reading from was the witness state. And for those who aren’t familiar with Vedanta or Buddhism, the witness state is often called the fourth state of consciousness. It’s just very unimaginatively called the fourth state because it’s actually the fourth state. 

[01:02:07] The first state is waking. Then the second state is dreaming. The third state is deep formless, dreamless state. And the fourth state is the ever-present witness that’s looking at each of those states. So if you just, right now, look within and just give a sense of yourself looking at your small self, what’s doing the looking is the witness.

[01:02:37] The witness is the big Self, or it’s called the turiya, which is the Sanskrit for fourth, because it’s the fourth state after the first three states that Vedanta recognizes. And whenever I would get in to that witness state, what I soon found is that I was almost always in the witness state because it would show up as an ever-present baseline on the computer screen that was always functioning, no matter if I was in first person.

[01:03:17] If I was in the first person state, I’d see alpha or beta waves. I see a lot of those. And then I see this very bottom, very low-level theta state, which was a first or second wave phenomenon. It was a very, very deep theta state. And then if I switch to a second person state, I just see the first person would disappear, and there wouldn’t be any third person.

[01:03:46] There’d just be a second person state of consciousness, which was theta, beta state, and not an alpha state. Alpha was first person. But I see the second person band, and then I still see that very basic witnessing stance. It was still there. And the same thing, when I would get into a third person, specifically formless state, I was witnessing that formless state.

[01:04:19] So there’d be a third person state, and then there’d still be that same bottom witnessing band. And I just found that I was almost always, because I had practiced meditation and witnessing so long, that it was just an ever-present state that was conscious. And that always surprised me. And I was very proud of it, which is counter the whole state itself. You’re not supposed to feel an egoic sensation like pride. So I wasn’t too happy with that. 


[01:05:00] Dave: Here’s a Zen koan that I invented. At least I think it’s a Zen koan, and it’s one of my favorites because it messes with my brain all the time. But your ego is smaller than my ego, which of course makes your ego go up, which then makes it not– and it’s like, no.

[01:05:17] Ken: Right. Oops.

[01:05:19] Dave: That leads though to the idea.

[01:05:22] Ken: And further, I’m proud of that fact.

[01:05:24] Dave: Exactly. And it takes you out of that state of small ego. So how do you deal with spiritual ego? It seems like that’s the hardest one to deal with, and it’s taken down great masters and gurus. So what’s your personal practice to not be like, I am the great Ken Wilber. Everyone look at me. Which would take you out of your witnessing state.

[01:05:42] Ken: Yeah, that is a difficult one. And I found of all my various religious practices– and I’ve done practices from virtually every major form of spirituality. So I’ve done Vedanta, and all three types of Buddhist meditation, and Christian mystical tradition, and Jewish Kabbalah traditions. I mean, I just had an enormous experiential revelation of those. And the one that I found handles this problem the best is Zen.

[01:06:19] And I mean, it’s just a cliche to say that because Zen is such a powerful inducer of shunyata or emptiness experience and nothingness experience, an ultimate turiya or even turiyatita, which in most of the mystical traditions of the East, there are five major states of consciousness. The first, second, and third are referred to as waking, dreaming, and deep formless sleep.

[01:06:52] And then the fourth is turiya, or the pure, ever-present witness, or awareness itself. And then the fifth is called turyatita, which is a Sanskrit term that simply means beyond turiya. So it’s called the fifth state because it’s beyond the fourth state. And the experience there is that you are deeply aware of the fact that you are aware. 

[01:07:22] So it’s also described as a great sense you’re witnessing because you have a close contact with the ever-present awareness of the witness, but you’re also witnessing the witness. And so that, in a sense, wipes out any separate subjective feeling. Because the moment you’re a big subject, aware, that small subject tends to just go away.

[01:07:53] Dave: It seems like it’s generating an infinite loop in the brain because you witness your witness, then you witness your witness of your witness, and eventually your brain is just witnessing, and eventually you go into this state of oneness because you realize nothing’s going on.

[01:08:08] Ken: That’s right.

[01:08:08] Dave: Yeah. Okay. 

[01:08:09] Ken: And you fall out of the witness itself.

[01:08:13] Dave: Right.

[01:08:13] Ken: Because you’re witnessing the witness of the witness of the, uh, what? I forgot. And it’s just gone.

[01:08:19] Dave: Right. And then you launch into that. And it feels like, for me, the first, or at least the easiest way to get to the first step is any form of biofeedback. And it can be just the temperature sensor on your finger, or stress response, or heart rate variability. My favorite obviously is neurofeedback, but even blood flow training in the brain. All of those things.

[01:08:42] That’s the first level when it’s like, oh, look. I’m watching myself watch myself. And then that’s the first one, and then you go, well, what part of me is watching me watch this? And that can be the launch pad to get into this magical state.

[01:08:54] Talk to me about drugs. I mean, you’ve hung out with all of the great masters of psychedelics, and now they’re coming on trend again and maybe being a little bit more legal. What’s your experience with psychedelics and consciousness?

[01:09:08] Ken: Yeah. Because I went to that period where I first got introduced to the perennial philosophy thinkers, a fair number of the modern perennial philosophy thinkers, Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, people like that, had not only taken drugs, at least mescaline, but often psilocybin and LSD, but they have written books about the entire experience.

[01:09:40] And they’ve also had separate mystical experiences. So they would compare the two. What I found is that almost all of them felt deeply that when they had a very profound psychedelic experience, it was indistinguishable from the deep, mystical experiences that they had had, even when they weren’t doing drugs.

[01:10:06] Dave: Correct.

[01:10:07] Ken: So it was very believable that their psychedelic experience was very close to a deep mystical experience. But all of them would, in a sense, worn away from psychedelics because they would simply say, well, it’s too much of a shortcut, and it frequently cuts out too much of the full mystical state.

[01:10:37] So I always had both, uh, a profound respect for the psychedelic experience because it could induce types of authentic mystical experiences, but I was always shy of getting really into them because of the warnings that these great writers would almost always give you. And they would say, no, meditate. That’s what you have to do.

[01:11:07] And so I started out, and I first tried LSD. I had some very deep shadow stuff come up, which often happens in LSD. If you just have the shadow stuff, it’s called a bad trip. Because it’s just a full-fledged experience of your shadow. And that is a bad experience. And so I had some bad parts of the LSD experience. But I’d always come out of them and get the good stuff. But I only did three or four trips on LSD because I felt that that was enough, and I didn’t want to get into where it was detracting or thwarting my mystical experience.

[01:12:01] Dave: Thank you for sharing that. One of my concerns is that psychedelic therapy has great value. And I’ve had the mystical experiences without the drugs before I ever tried a psychedelic. Actually, I tried mushrooms in my 20s one time. But it’s one of those things where if you’re relying on it, and there’s a guy out there, uh, with a podcast that said, oh, I’ve done a hundred ayahuasca ceremonies, I’m like, well, he’s not in training to be a shaman in the jungle. At some point, the poor guy, it’s not working. Right?

[01:12:32] Ken: Right. That’s right.

[01:12:35] Dave: And then you have Stan Grof, and I’ve been honored to actually co-host a breathwork session. Stan Grof used LSD in his licensed psychiatry practice and replaced it with meditation and breathwork because you go to the same places. And I do that. I go to those places with electrodes on my head. You don’t need the drugs, but maybe using the drugs once so you know the state is of value. But relying on them, it seems like too much of a shortcut, and I’m the king of shortcuts. I’m biohacking. Get it done faster.

[01:13:02] Ken: Yeah, I hear you. Yeah. Well, I’m good friends with Stan Grof, and I really appreciated his early LSD work. And not only was it just really profound research, it almost always produced exactly the great chain of being. So you went from really broken, egoic, fragmented experience to very real, unitary, unified, spiritual oneness.

[01:13:36] And Stan was always alerted by the LSD experience itself to those very deep unity experiences. I want to just mention that I, however, had a great deal of hope and promise for the so called psychedelic revolution. And mostly for the reason you said. Even if you can take one good dose of LSD and have a unity experience, at least you know it’s there, and it’s real. 

[01:14:10] That was my hope for the psychedelic revolution. Even though I myself didn’t continue doing that drug, I’d had one or two experiences of mescaline, and a few experiences of psilocybin, and those all gave very unique types of mystical experiences, genuine mystical experiences. But I was hoping that LSD in particular, because it was such a powerful psychedelic, that it would induce a mystical revolution in America.

[01:14:52] And oddly, what seemed to happen instead is people would take it, and many of them would have a profound mystical experience, but they’d either fall into one of two different paths, neither of which were very helpful. One was they just take it once a month and forever, so they would get up to the hundredth time I’ve had these, and at that point, you’re just wiping out.

[01:15:23] It’s just becoming much too, almost symbolic. It just loses its reality and its real function. And the other way is that many people just stopped taking it entirely. And so we had these two different branches. One people who were overusing it and another set of people who were underusing it. And neither one produced the middle of the road.

[01:15:52] I take it maybe two or three times a year, and I have profound experiences, and then I use those in my meditation practice to further it. And that just didn’t seem to happen. And I found lots of people that went one extreme or the other, but very few people, it seemed to balance out their use of psychedelics to prolong and increase their meditative experience. And that was always very disappointing to me.

[01:16:27] Dave: It’s like when you wake up from a dream, you forget the dream until you tell someone to write it down. And I feel like there’s a big challenge with integration after a psychedelic experience. Because if you write down and you were to record everything during that, and then study that in your meditation for a few months, you’re going to get all the value.

[01:16:46] But if you just keep taking it and you forget 90% of it, it’s not like your ego isn’t listening. I think it strengthens the ego to take drugs over and over and over unless you do the integration so your conscious brain gets it and your ego gets it, so you’re at par with your ego. Because we all know people who’ve done way too much ayahuasca, or acid, or something and something’s not right. And you can feel it. And I also know people who’ve done it maybe 500 times who are profoundly enlightened and just happy people. Not that they don’t have their scars or whatever, but they’re the exception, not the rule, right?

[01:17:21] Ken: Exactly. And then there seemed to be a resurgence of psychedelics when ayahuasca came along because I talked to an enormous number of people that swore by their ayahuasca trip, and they had taken it two, or three, or five, or 10 times, and they were having some very real and very profound mystical type of experiences.

[01:17:50] Dave: I feel a little guilty about that. In 1999, I went to Peru, and I sought out ayahuasca. So I’ve done extensive reading like you. And I went down there, and there was no tourism industry for this. And I asked them, and they looked at me and said, you’re white. You won’t like it. And I said, well, I know that I’m white, but I’ve done my research. I’ve read DMT, the spirit molecule. I even know one of the guys in the study. 

[01:18:09] So I was introduced to the right shaman, and I had a ceremony. I didn’t do it again for almost 20 years, but I talked about it a lot in the early days of biohacking in 2011, 2012, just as one of the paths to consciousness. And there are certainly others who talk about ayahuasca. I’m not alone. But in the world of biohacking, I started biohacking. 

[01:18:29] So I know that that helped to bring it out there. And I think there are predators using ayahuasca, especially on billionaires to try and co-opt to their consciousness, and it has risks. Even meditation has meaningful risks. Buddhist meditation in Buddhist literature can drive you crazy, especially fast path Buddhism. So can aya.

[01:18:48] So I appreciate your perspective on right use of these very powerful substances. So thank you, Ken. I think you’re a leading voice, and people need to hear that. They’re not good. They’re not bad. They’re somewhere in the middle, which is funny because you teach that. Nothing is all good or all evil. That everything is on a slider switch. Is that part of non-duality? Do you believe in non-duality? Talk to me about that.

[01:19:13] Ken: Yeah, I think non-duality is a very good attempt at trying to state shunyata, or it’s neither God, nor not God, nor both, nor neither. It’s a psychedelic. You can’t say it is, or isn’t, or is both, or neither. It’s just emptiness. Period. And so I think shunyata, particularly in the hands of somebody like Nagarjuna, who introduced it as a major conceptual formulation of Buddhism, which is to say it’s neither conceptual, nor not conceptual, nor both, nor neither. 

[01:20:01] And he was always repeating those so called four inexpressibles, or the four negations of reality, although he would negate that and say, no, you can’t describe it as four negations either. It’s not that, or not that, or both, or neither of that. So in his hands, it always left you in a state something like shunyata. Something like emptiness.

[01:20:34] It even blasted the notion of emptiness out of your mind because it can neither be called emptiness, or not emptiness, or both, or neither. And that wipes it out entirely. And so you could come away with some pretty good experiential experiences from Nagarjuna. And I think that’s why he’s single-handedly credited with founding the entire second major movement of Buddhism. 

[01:21:08] He was the original Gautama Buddha. He was just a brilliant theoretician and a brilliant shunyata realizer, or realization that it’s neither a, nor not a, nor both, nor neither. And so I believe in shunyata or theory of non-duality. And by non-duality, Nagarjuna means it’s neither dualistic, or not dualistic, or both, or neither.

[01:21:42] So he’s just really getting rid of all forms of duality. Although he would deny that’s what he’s doing. But that was in fact what he was doing. And your experience of satori, or awakening, or enlightenment is a feeling of non-duality to the extent it can be spoken of at all because you feel that your subject is one with every object it’s aware of.

[01:22:12] And that way your separate subject disappears and separate objects disappear. And everything that’s in your awareness right now, this computer screen, this table, the chair you’re sitting in, your own body, all of those are objects, and they all disappear as something separate from you. And your whole subjective awareness just becomes one with everything you’re aware of. And that’s a non-dual experience. Although it’s neither non-dual, nor not non-dual, nor both, nor neither. So as long as you keep the real shunyata in mind, I think non-duality is a very good approach to this ultimate reality.

[01:23:05] Dave: Wow. Ken, you are, and I mean it, in your introduction, a living legend. You’ve spent more time than almost anyone alive working on this, 60 years, legitimately, uh, which just gives you an ability to communicate it in such a beautiful way. And it is a mind-bending thing. I mean, it bends everyone’s mind, including yours. As far as I could tell, you’re still getting on top of it. 

[01:23:29] And I’m so grateful that you’re accelerating your capturing and structuring of knowledge by writing more books more quickly and getting this level of mastery that almost no humans will ever do. I’m really excited to read Finding Radical Wholeness. I hope I get an advanced copy. And I know it comes out in April. So for listeners, I want to just remind you. Pick any of Ken Wilber’s books to read now. Ken, what is the number one first book people should read if they want to get into your work?

[01:23:58] Ken: Well, I actually think the one that I’ve just finished writing is probably the best overall summary of the integral approach. And the reason is what you’ve already described, that each year, as I use whatever my present theory is to look back at the previous theories, I transcend and include everything I’ve done.

[01:24:26] So each successive work gets more inclusive in terms of my explanation. So finding ultimate wholeness, it goes through five major different types of wholeness. So it goes through waking up, which is an experience of individuality, finite individuals with infinite reality, or the ultimate unity experience.

[01:24:56] And then there’s growing up. And of course, that infinite unity awareness is an expansive form of wholeness because it’s basically a oneness with the entire universe. And then we have growing up. And growing up, generally, it was introduced best by one of America’s greatest psychologists. Not many people know his name, but his name was James Mark Baldwin, and he wrote around 1900s to 1912, 1920. And he was very good friends with William James at Harvard. 

[01:25:38] And of course, William James was writing books on states of consciousness. So William James wrote books like The Varieties of Religious Experience. And he went through almost every great mystic in history and showed how they all had this similar ultimate unity experience. And so he was writing about altered states of consciousness, and what James Mark Baldwin was writing about was all altered structures of consciousness.

[01:26:12] And the structure of consciousness is different from a state of consciousness because the state of consciousness is a direct first person experience. So if you have a waking state experience of being one with the entire universe, you know it. I’m one with it all. I’m directly aware of that oneness. 

[01:26:35] But stages of growing up are the actual stages that each and every one of us goes through as we grow through our multiple intelligences. So Piaget, for example, would describe them as six or seven major stages of development. And we start out with a type of natural intelligence, of which Piaget outlines six stages.

[01:27:04] And even a cat gets to stage number four of those six stages because all of these stages that we go through are evolutionary stages that we went through as we evolved through the entire chain of being. So the full evolutionary stages include quarks, to atoms, to molecules, to single cells, to multiple cellular organisms, to the entire tree of life, from fish, to amphibians, to reptiles, to mammals, to humans. 

[01:27:41] And those are all experienced in their sensorimotor form at these early six major stages of development, which all animals go through. Some version, they go so far up those six stages. Like I say, a cat reaches stage four, and an ape reaches stage five or even stage six on occasion. And then it goes through a stage that he called pre-operational. And this is because it’s an early cognitive stage that can’t actually operate on reality the way we do.

[01:28:20] When we’re thinking about something, we’re actually operating on that thing we’re thinking about. So it’s a mental operation, but we operate on our thoughts. But pre-operational is before we do that. So in pre-operational, we still haven’t differentiated subject and object very well. 

[01:28:42] And that’s a stage also called the magical stage of development because in magic, because subject and object are not well differentiated, if you change the subject, you’ll magically change the object. And that’s what all magic does. It manipulates the thought of an object, and that actually magically changes the object is sometimes called word magic. 

[01:29:09] So that’s a magical stage of development, and we go through that. And then we get to what Piaget called concrete operational thinking. It’s also called the mythic stage of development. And the difference between magic and mythic is that in magic, which happens from ages two to four or five, we actually think that we can magically change things. 

[01:29:37] So young children have what’s called word magic, where they think that they can operate on and change reality, and all of that. And that’s the pre-operational stage. When we get to concrete or mythic thinking, we can no longer do magic, but some supernatural God or goddess can perform magic.

[01:30:01] So Zeus can perform magic, and Yahweh, God, can perform magic. And if we know how to correctly pray to God, we can convince him to produce magic on our behalf. So we think God can actually get us the new car, or God can actually buy us something, or goddess can make the crops grow. 

[01:30:29] And so our early mythic forebearers would often do rites of sacrifice to the goddess. And those rites would induce the goddess to make our crops grow, or some mythic being that could perform magic. And so that runs in human beings from around age six or seven all the way to around age 11 or 12. 

[01:31:01] And at that age, 11, 12, 13, we shift to a stage called formal operational thinking. And that’s thought that can operate not on the objective world, but thought that operates on thought. So we get the emergence of logic, and mathematics, and highly advanced thought forms like that. And that produces multiple universal systems.

[01:31:31] So we have chemistry, biology, geology, and so on. And often those are so intense in experience that they fly apart. So it becomes very hard for us to see how they’re unified into one overall system. But if we keep cognitively growing and we grow to the next stage, which is often called polymorphism or pluralism because it unifies all of these different pluralistic systems. So you’ll have a unity of biology and chemistry, often called biochemistry, or we’ll have a unity of geology and chemistry. So we have geochemistry. 

[01:32:23] And so that’s actually very unified forms of thinking. And thought can operate on thought to produce these very unified or global systems. And then if we go even further, it’s usually called an integral stage because that takes any remaining fragmentations that exist in our thought and integrates all of our thought systems into a single unified integrated system. And that’s often what systems theory, for example, operates from. 

[01:33:01] So these are all important stages of our own growth process. And each stage is more inclusive. Like all stages we’re aware of, it transcends the previous stage, or it goes beyond it, and it can do something that the previous stage couldn’t like concrete operational can operate on the external world, and pre-operational thinking can’t do that. And formal operational thinking can operate on concrete operational thinking, and therefore produce unified systems, which concrete operational thinking can’t do. 

[01:33:44] So that’s another type of wholeness, is the wholeness that we get from growing up. And each of us goes through the same types of stages if we continue to grow. Some people stop growth at an earlier stage. So some people stop growing at concrete operational or mythic thinking. Many people stop at formal operational thinking. 

[01:34:13] About 50% of people make it to a formal operational capacity, so they can do mathematics, and logic, and stuff like that. And then fewer people get to the pluralistic stage, which integrates those previous formal operational stages. And only about 5% of the population makes it to integral stages, which fully unifies all forms of thinking. 

[01:34:43] And therefore, if you’re thinking about different schools of philosophy, for example, integral thinking can integrate virtually every major school of philosophy. And so that’s waking up and growing up. And then there’s something we call opening up, which everybody has upwards of around, psychologists differ, but around 12 multiple intelligences. 

[01:35:12] So we have cognitive intelligence, which is a typical cognitive thinking as it goes through its various cognitive stages of development, pre-operational, concrete operational, formal operational, pluralistic, and integral. And each one of those gets bigger or more inclusive until you get to the integral stage, which is all inclusive. 

[01:35:35] And each one of those stages transcends and includes the previous state. So when you get the concrete operational, you’re transcending a merely pre-operational thinking, which is just a string of symbols or symbolic words, but it has access to all of those words. But it can operate on them and operate on the world around it in a way that pre-operational thinking can’t do. It’s just a magical type of thinking.

[01:36:06] And in formal operational thinking, it’s thought operating on thought, and that includes thought operating on concrete operational thinking, which is the stage that preceded formal operational thinking. And then pluralistic can include all of the different forms of formal operational thinking, and integral can include all of the pluralistic. It just gives a complete wholeness. 

[01:36:34] So that’s another major form of growth and wholeness. And then we have what we call cleaning up intelligence. And that’s usually associated with the names of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. And what happens according to all of the major cleaning up theorists, including both Freud and Jung, is that we all have a separate individual self sense. 

[01:37:02] We all have an ego, or a separate self. And that ego can itself be fragmented or split off. So we can have a persona, and it spits off a portion of itself called our shadow. And all the shadow elements gather in the so called unconscious. And we get it back by re-identifying with what is really part of our own thought system. And if we keep it split off, that separate thought, shadow that we have is often projected onto other people.

[01:37:44] So I might be attracted to a woman and have a lot of lust for her, but if I’m unaware that this lust is mine, I can project it onto her. And then I’ll think that she is after me. Because that’s what happens when we project some of our motivation, is they get on you. So if I’m angry at you, and I project my anger onto you, I’ll think you’re angry at me. And that’s what projection is all about. It’s one of our major defense mechanisms. 

[01:38:16] Dave: That’s also where the roots of narcissism likely come from, right?

[01:38:19] Ken: That’s correct. As for narcissism, what we want to do, narcissism can get so intense that it splits off part of itself accidentally, and that becomes shadow material. And Freud was the first to spot this. Not many people know that the terms often associated with Freud, like the ego and the it, Freud never once used either of those terms.

[01:38:48] He used the actual German pronouns that are translated in Latin terms. The I, it’s translated as the ego or self, and the shadow is translated as the it. The Latin term that his translator used for Freud, both the ego and the it are Latin terms. And they were used to translate Freud’s pronouns into their Latin forms.

[01:39:23] So Freud would actually say things like, the I often feels hurt or damaged from the it. And that’s actually how he’d write it, the I and the it. And his major translator, James Strachey, translated those into Latin. And so in English, those Latin terms read the ego and the it. And so Freud’s statement that the I is often hurt by the it would be translated as the ego is often hurt by the it. But that’s not what Freud ever wrote.

[01:39:56] And so what he means is that the I has to reunite with the it. And the real master of doing this was a guy named Fritz Perls, who became very famous at Esalen Institute, which Mike Murphy had founded as the first growth center in America in the late 1950s. And by the 1980s, there were over 300 growth centers, all copied off of Esalen growth center.

[01:40:28] And one of the stars at Esalen was Fritz Perls. And Perls famously said, I can cure any neurosis in 15 minutes. And what he would have the person do is they’d come up to work with him, and he’d have them sit in a chair, and in front of the chair they’re sitting in was just an empty chair, a chair with nobody sitting in.

[01:40:53] And so the person might say something like, well, I have this terrible anxiety, and it’s always overcoming me. And so they’re actually using the terms I and it. It often overcomes me, or the I. And so what Perls would do is have them put the it, or their symptom, whether it’s depression, anxiety, compulsion, obsession, uh, depression, and so on, actually put it in the empty chair and talk to it as if it were a real second person, you.

[01:41:32] So the person with anxiety might talk to its own. Perls would say, put the anxiety in that chair and talk to it. And so they’d say, okay, anxiety, why are you picking on me? And then you say, okay, answer it. So you play like you’re the anxiety. Sit in the empty chair and have a conversation with yourself.

[01:41:59] And the more they would talk as the it, they were becoming the it. Because I’m not talking to my anxiety as an it. I’m talking to it as an I. Oh, I want to know why you’re always feeling anxiety, or whatever it was. But their I would identify with their it. What Freud said, where it was, their I shall become. That’s what would happen. 

[01:42:27] And the person would actually re-identify with their it shadow because they’re now talking as if they were actually one with it. And that’s why in about 10 to 15 minutes, their anxiety would start to go away because they’re reintegrating with that feeling. And that’s why Perls said, I can cure any neurosis in 15 minutes. And even his critics agreed with him. Um, he was an amazing fellow.

[01:42:59] Dave: This idea, it sounds crazy. And what I found is that the body, or the ego, whatever you want to call it, it does all sorts of stuff that’s invisible to our conscious brains until we develop the faculty to see it. And then there are these mystical states, the ones that we’ve talked about, that allow you to go in and change your settings.

[01:43:19] And that practice is a very potent way of doing it. And on its face, it’s entirely irrational when you look at it from the rational mindset. And just once you realize that a lot of what your body does is not rational based at all. It’s emotion-based, or it’s based on phases of the moon, or magnetic fields, and all sorts of stuff you just don’t even know.

[01:43:38] So, all of a sudden, you can go in and change the settings. And it’s funny. Probably a seventh generation after that process is a part of the reset process I use at 40 Years of Zen. There is an actual chair there, and it’s done with neuroscience signals, but they visualize a thing in a chair because it’s so powerful to bring, and to reintegrate, and to create.

[01:43:59] When it comes back in, you have a spiritual experience. It’s a heart-opening thing, and all that. I’m always looking for the faster ways to help people do that without using psychedelics. I don’t care if they have used them. I don’t care if they’re going to use them again. But it feels like the really deep sensations I’ve experienced, the sense of oneness with the universe, they never came from psychedelics as strongly as they did from a process like that where you just reintegrate. And as soon as it comes in, you’re like, oh my god, look at how big I am right now.

[01:44:28] Yeah. And it’s very hard in a podcast to talk about these mystical states that there aren’t words for unless you’ve been there and we agree on what the words are. And that’s why Buddhism has 10 million words written from the masters about it, and they’re still not done. . But I think this conversation is going to be very helpful for people who are saying, look, is all this mumbo jumbo woo nonsense, or is there something?

[01:44:51] I say, guys, here’s a master who spent 60 years studying this stuff. And Ken Wilber, you’re different, but you’re not nuts. I think a few people would say you’re crazy. You just have developed faculties that most of us haven’t. And thankfully, you’re teaching it, and I’m so grateful for that.

[01:45:08] And I want everyone listening, guys, read Finding Radical Wholeness when it comes out, and I’ll definitely re-release this, or I’ll put out some stuff when your book comes out. In the meantime, pick up a Ken Wilber book, or listen to some of the audios that you’ve got out there because it’s powerful stuff. And I especially want to thank you for coming on The Human Upgrade and just sharing your wisdom with me, and with all of our listeners, and with the world. I genuinely appreciate you.

[01:45:33] Ken: Well, I’ve enjoyed this immensely, and I’m delighted that you asked me to do this.

Listen and Subscribe using your favorite podcast provider

You may also like

Start hacking your way to better than standard performance and results.

Receive weekly biohacking tips and tech by becoming a Dave Asprey insider.

By sharing your email, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy